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Phil Irwin on progressing through the Pirates' system

Before Pittsburgh's series with the Reds even started, Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said he was concerned about containing his division rivals' balanced power at the plate. The Pirates succeeded Saturday, limiting the Reds to just one run to clinch their second straight series win.

Hurdle will be even more focused on his club's defense and pitching Sunday as Phil Irwin makes his Major League debut. Hurdle had a few options when looking to replace an injured Wandy Rodriguez, but said Irwin was best equipped.

"Based on what we've seen, Irwin brings us the best package for competing right now," Hurdle said. "He has command of the fastball to both sides of the plate, he's got a breaking ball he can throw for strikes, and for swing-and-miss, has a very good changeup. [Against the Reds], you have to command both sides of the plate."

Irwin was strong in his only start with Triple-A Indianapolis this season, allowing one run in six innings while striking out five. Irwin was solid in 130 1/3 innings across three Minor League levels in 2012, going 8-7 with a 2.83 ERA.

The Reds will answer with a more experienced hand Sunday, as Mat Latos takes the mound for the third time this season. Latos struggled with his command early in his last start, allowing two runs in the first inning against the Cardinals. He settled down the rest of the way, though, allowing just one more run as he pitchd 6 2/3 frames.

If history is any measure, the Reds should expect another strong performance out of their right-hander Sunday. Latos has never lost a game against Pittsburgh, going 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 38 1/3 innings.

Reds: Cueto pulled for precaution
• Cincinnati decided to play it safe Saturday, pulling Johnny Cueto after the starter experienced pain in his right tricep. Cueto was cruising in the game, tossing 4 1/3 innings with one run and two hits.

• Second baseman Brandon Phillips missed Saturday night's game due to a family matter, and could be back for Sunday's game. Phillips has been a consistent offensive threat this year, logging a .318 average with a team-high four homers.

Pirates: Starling stars
Hurdle likes what he's gotten so far this season out of Starling Marte. The left fielder is hitting .341 with seven runs scored and five RBIs, and Hurdle has gained even more confidence in the 24-year-old.

"I think it's early [to start any superstar talk]. But we feel confident he will be a very good player," said Hurdle. "I like the way he's playing now. He gets on base two, three times a game, he is attacking the ball in the outfield -- getting to it and making throws, laying out. I like the way he's running the bases."

Worth Noting
• After collecting 26 hits in their first seven games, the Pirates have recorded 35 hits in their past four, including a season-high 12 in Friday night's series-opening victory against the Reds. Comments